Cody Latimer was once a hidden talent. Now he has a lot of buzz around his name. (David Durochik/AP)
In every pre-draft process there are a few players whose stocks rise dramatically at the last minute. This year it's Cody Latimer. Interest in the Indiana receiver has gained a lot of traction in recent days, with predictions of him being a third-day prospect giving way to a new second-round projection.
Not that anything's changed with his overall circumstances in that time. Unable to do anything more than the bench press at the scouting combine due to a foot injury, Latimer had to wait until his pro day in late March to run his all-important 40-yard dash and get the rest of his drills in for the NFL to see. And when he ran a 4.44-40 at 6-3 and 215 pounds, everybody perked up. Before that, Latimer could only sit on his college numbers -- 135 catches for 2,042 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons -- for a program that often had less than spectacular talent at the quarterback position. In 2013, he caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the sleepers at his position.
As to the hype surrounding his name, Latimer couldn't have been less concerned about it when I spoke with him recently about the whole exercise.
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"I try to keep it away from me, you know? It's a lot of hype. So, I try to stay in my lane and stay focused. I have these visits, and I'm just trying to be the best I can be. My agent does a good job and keeps me updated, but I try not to talk about that too much."
Instead, Latimer's been busy training and getting ready for a draft that could see his name called sooner than many once imagined. When we spoke, he had either met or was getting ready to meet with 10 teams -- "Buffalo, Philly, Oakland, Seattle, San Diego, Detroit, Jacksonville, Washington, Carolina, Baltimore," -- and keeping his head about him as things started to accelerate.
"It's pretty much the same thing," he said when asked what the common questions from teams tended to be. "They ask me what I think my best traits are, and what I think I need to work on, what kind of receiver would I classify myself as. They all want to know what your take is on yourself."
As a result, it was easy for Latimer to give me a scouting report on himself -- both positives and negatives.
"I use my hands well," he said. "Being physical, blocking, playing special teams -- that helps a lot. High-pointing the ball, and just being a playmaker. That's what being a receiver is all about."
He was just as expressive when discussing the aspects of his game that still need work.
"Just like every receiver does -- my route-running. Nobody runs perfect routes. Getting open in windows at the next level; you've got to figure out different ways to get open. It's a different ballgame."
In the end, Latimer sees himself -- quite rightly -- as one of the better big receivers in this draft class. Teams are always looking for players who can win battles in short spaces (especially in the end zone), and Latimer has this ability.
"Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson. Keenan Allen, who came into the NFL last year and was making plays," he said, when asked which current NFL receivers he looks to mirror. "Those big, physical receivers, as I just mentioned."
The Keenan Allen comparison, in my opinion, is quite apt. Like Allen, Latimer doesn't explode off the tape with demon speed -- instead, he gets open and makes plays with toughness, route awareness and field intelligence. I believe that he will be an ideal number-two receiver in just about any NFL system. Allen was selected in the third round of the 2013 draft by the Chargers, and he responded with a fabulous rookie campaign -- 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. Latimer, under the right circumstances, could do the same.
"It's just practice," he says about what defines his game. "Over the years -- these were things that, when I first came to college I didn't know how to do. What I needed to do to get open. So I started doing drills with my coaches, and individual drills on my own -- head movement, sticking my routes better. In small spaces, you have a [defender] around you, you've got to make a play. Just trying to catch the ball with my body, so the defenders don't have time to get in there [and disrupt the play]. It's just things you work on daily, when you're out on that field.
"Nobody's perfect, so you always have something to work on. The little things."
And those little things are paying off -- at just the right time.